Well this was yesterday when I’m writing this – so lets see how we go…
Woke up nice and earlyish – this has more to do with the uncomfortable bed than any good planning – but regardless, I was packed and on the road by 8am.
More rural roads today. My GPS has decided that it’s more interesting to take the back roads than the main highway (must be slightly shorter). I happen to agree – but it does make the trip a bit longer than expected.
At one point I entered a town, took a side street back out of town, back in via the suburbs, and then rejoined the highway. Might have been shorted, but certainly wasn’t faster. At other points I travelled through dairy country backroads instead of staying on the highway – that was fun though.
One of the townships I came across had an awesome little park/playground in the middle of it. The centrepiece was a slippery slide made out of the body of an old WWII fighter plane. They had an awesome collection of play equipment for little tackers too – I expect it wouldn’t be deemed ‘safe’ in Aus.
Further down the road I found an old Anzac memorial bridge. This had been the main bridge, but when the bridge was replaced, they kept the old one as a memorial. This might not have been super interesting, except I ended up here for half an hour or so. I didn’t initially stop at the bridge, but just past it I saw my first Kiwi crossing sign, so wanted a photo. I did a u-turn at a small pull-over that was connected to the bridge somehow, and went back. I parked at the other pull-over on the other side of the modern bridge (besides the Anzac bridge). While here, I decided to check for caches – I found a close one and grabbed it. By this point I’d forgotten why I went back in the first place, so I drove past again, re-saw the kiwi sign, so did another u-turn and went back to the bridge pull-over. Grabbing my camera and tripod I went to cross the modern bridge, but it didn’t have anywhere to walk except on the middle of the road – so I returned to the Anzac bridge and crossed there – but couldn’t get back to the main road until I’d walked all the way to the pull-over on the other side (only about a 5 min walk but further than I’d expected). So then back along the road to the Kiwi sign for the photo. After almost 30 minutes of stuffing around, I decided to risk the modern bridge instead of walking back the long way. All in all, it was a long time for nothing much.
^ The photo that kept me crossing the bridge for 30 minutes.
I was still pretty early for arriving in Wellington though. I knew Jason would want a look around the city on the following day, so wanted to leave some stuff for then – so didn’t mind taking a bit longer.
Then I saw a sign for a Kiwi enclosure at Mt Bruce.
I have now seen a live Kiwi!
Mt Bruce is a large conservation reserve. They’ve managed to clean out the introduced predators by a series of trap lines around the reserve (no fences) that get checked every few days. In additional to the reserve, they have a tourist section where you can see the animals. I didn’t do the entire park – but spent an hour or more here with the Weta bugs, Tuatara reptiles (not lizards) and the Kiwi. They normally have a pair of Kiwis, but one was at the vet’s – but the star was here.
Mt Bruce is famous for having the only white Kiwi on display. There are only three known to exist at all.
The white Kiwi lives in a dark enclosure so you can see it foraging (I assume they turn the lights on at night to make it feel like daytime). Not easy to get photos in the dark – but it was well worth the visit. The tour-guide (a rather cute Canadian) did a talk on both the tuataras and Kiwis while I was there – so I feel much more informed. A Kiwi can defend itself quite well against a feral cat once it reaches a decent size – and the Tuatara has a third eye for it’s first few months (not a full eye – but it can sense daylight and things with it).
^ A Tuatara
^This red blob is actually a white Kiwi - this is why it's worth buying postcards sometimes....
Onwards to the town of Masterton. Spotted a Countdown supermarket that hasn’t been Woolies branded. Not sure if some have held out from the merger, or just haven’t been branded yet. Had lunch just out of town (more tuna in rolls).
I’d been told to expect interesting roads down this way – but so far it had been disappointing. At Featherston, I finally arrived at the pass. This was much more interesting as the road snaked up and down the mountains. Unlike similar roads back home, there was a lot of traffic on this run though. Unlike the run to Gisborne, this one went up and down on the hills – the Gisborne run was along besides the river. The Gisborne one was longer though, and had much less traffic. Still – I quite enjoyed this.
And then down past the town of Upper Hutt, to the town of Lower Hutt which is almost part of Wellington (like Legana to Launceston). This is where the Wellington Caravan park lives – so I checked in and erected our tents (so mine could dry). Mine is a $20 tent from Kmart in Aus, Jason’s is a $9 tent from The Warehouse here. They are both very lame tents – but the extra $11 makes a big difference. Mine is much wider so you can sleep diagonally – and more importantly, mine isn’t transparent. In the sun, you can see straight through Jason’s – so you can’t leave anything in it. In the dark, if he turns a torch on, everyone can see him too. His does have a better door though.
^ A pair of lame tents.
Left the tents behind, and headed into Wellington. I’m not sure how they compare in size, but it feels a lot like Hobart – except with tunnels.
^ Welcome to Wellington!
^ Why go over a hill...
^ When you can go through it?
Went to visit the Weta Cave. This is the public part of the Weta Workshops. These are the guys who made the armour, weapons, costumes, and effects for Lord of the Rings, Hobbit, Narnia, District 9 etc. Had a look around the shop, and joined a tour of the workshop. It was shorter than expected – but I really enjoyed it.
^ Weta Cave
Got to see (and sometimes handle) some of the props from the movies, as well as have the process that created them explained. By the time I finished, the shop was shut, but I was coming back tomorrow anyway…
Drove around for a bit – found myself in some tiny little streets on the hills around the Miramar peninsula. Two-way streets with parking on both sides, and just enough room to sneak between in the middle – if you met someone, you had to back a long way (I did twice). Was rewarded with some impressive views though.
^ Looking towards the bottom of the North Island.
Back down on the level, headed around the point of the peninsula to find a cache or two to mark my visit – and ended up recovering a Jeep!
That’s not something I’d expected on this trip – but a Jeep driver had done something foolish and gotten bridged, so I can gave him a gentle tow to get out of there.
More fish and chips for tea besides the water – and then just waiting for Jason’s plane to land. He’d flown down from Auckland to join me for a few days. Picked him up and then headed back to Lower Hutt for the night.
Woke up early – much to Jason’s surprise. Neither of us had slept overly well – but that’s expected by this point.
Headed into Wellington (the first Jason got to see of it in daylight). Had a look around the CBD while we were looking for the info centre (Google was confused). Had a look at a few tech shops, and a Whitcools (think Birchalls for a similar shop). Whitcools had shotgun lighters that I’d admired at Jason’s, so I got one too. Jason meanwhile drank 6 litres of free water (apparently he was dehydrated yesterday at work) before finally buying a drink as well to make up for it. He spent the rest of the day looking for toilets, but felt better.
At the Info Centre we decided to head to the local museum because it was free (and because it was raining).
Wasn’t bad – the most impressive thing was the body of a giant squid they have preserved and on display.
^ Lots of squid rings!
It’s looking a bit worse for wear now – but they also had footage of it when it was caught. It was good for Jason though – the toilets were convenient so he went three times while we were there.
^ The Middle of Middle Earth
^ A Maori war canoe
After that it was back to Weta Cave so Jason could take a look and I could get some souvenirs. Jason wasn’t very impressed because it was all expensive, so he went off in a sulk to try and find some USB drives at a local store that had been advertised, while I stayed and watched a doco about the history of Weta – nicely complemented the tour I’d done yesterday.
^ Don't feed the trolls
^ NO MORE PHOTOS!
After Weta, we headed out of Wellington. On the way out we did a detour to a little cul-de-sac Jason had found online called Jason’s Place so he could have a photo with the sign – and I took a photo of the series Landy that happened to be parked up the street.
^ Jason's Place
The weather was clearing and the forecast looked like we should be able to tent again tonight.
From there it was more driving up to Palmerston North. Jason was trying to sleep, while I was trying to fight off a headache (apparently I hadn’t drunk enough either) but we made it. Had a quick look in town at the local Cash Converters before checking into the caravan park. Good thing the weather was getting back to normal (hot) – the cabins were all booked.
Put up the tents – and over the fence we could see the local pool – or more to the point, we could see the waterslides at the pool. Jason could even see them from inside his tent (I said it was see-through didn’t I)!
So we headed next door and went to the pool. We only did the outside slides (the inside ones were shutting as we got there. One of the ones we did was a “speed slide” – basically a straight drop so you built up a lot of speed. Not my thing – too high – but Jason did it a number of times.
The other slide was sort of like being flushed down the toilet. It was as high as the speed one, but you went down on an inflatable ring through a tube and then got spun around a bowl until you slowed down, and then through another tunnel and out the bottom. Got some photos and took GoPro footage – hopefully they turn out ok. Lots of fun.
^ The Speed Slide
^ Jason on the speed slide
^ Me on the flushing ride
^ The final flush
After messing about on the diving boards for a bit, we got dressed and headed into town again. Tea at Wendy’s tonight. Wendy’s is a burger joint over here, not related to the icecream shop back home (although they apparently have that too). Quite nice – and the large drinks are almost Abbey caff-pow size.
By this point Jason was feeling rather stiff and sore after all the water-sliding and swimming, so we went to Kmart so he could get an extra sleep mat for padding tonight. Not sure it will help much.
Then back to the camp – and time to update this log and record my spendings (ouch).
Oh yeah – back when we were first looking around Palmerston North, we had a look at a local Warehouse (I seem to have been in a lot of them this trip) for something or other, and I found a Lego Hobbit set (these are out of print) – so I now have a Lego Thorin as well as the one from Gisborne – rather chuffed about that.
Day 7 - Palmerston North to Rotorua.
Today half our party breakfasted on jam and toast, while the other (and oddly broker) half decided to try a café. So we headed into town and found a Café, but Jason panicked when they told him to take a seat and they’d bring him a menu. Apparently what he wanted was a bakery, so we found one on Google and headed for it – but apparently it was a commercial bakery rather than a foody one. So we tried another café/bakery but Jason then decided what he really wanted was to try some local cuisine, so he went to Subway.
After Jason finally had breakfast, we found a cache and had a look around Harvey Norman while waiting for the local Toyworld to open – but nothing exciting in either so we headed out of town.
Along the road we can across an impressive looking valley so we decided to take a back-road and headed down into it. We then realised it was quite cool, so came back up to take some photos from the top – and then headed down again. There’s a nice camp site down here with access to the river so we poked around a little.
^ Just a randomly awesome valley
^ View from the top
^ I wouldn't get that close
There was a one-lane bridge over the river and as the road had been dead quite we decided to take a photo – but had to bail twice due to cars that chose that particular moment to turn up – but eventually we got the shot.
^ Traveling NZ
As we travelled we checked the forecast. Not looking good for tonight, so we checked the net and a cabin at the caravan park wasn’t too much more than a tent site, so we booked one online.
Then up the valley and up a road that turned out was heading south again – so even though it looked like an epic drive, we turned around and took anther (also rather cool) road up the valley and eventually rejoined the highway.
Had lunch at Macca’s in Taihape where I ordered a meat pie (not something you get down here).
^ Onward to victory!
Up the road at Waiouru there’s an Army Base and the National NZ Army museum. We didn’t go into the actual museum, but poked around the tanks outside. Unlike thee equivalent in Aus, there weren’t any “keep off” signs or fences, so we followed the example of some others, and took some photos with the tanks, and then visited the gift shop inside.
^ This wouldnt be allowed back home
Just out of Waiouru we realised we’d entered the highlands. Awesome highland scenery (pains of highland scrub) and mountains in the distance. We’re not sure if it’s snow, clay, or even a glacier, but something on the mountains was reflecting rather awesomely.
^ Not sure if snow, ice, or clay.
I mentioned one of them might be the mountain they’d used as Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings, so Jason checked Google and said it wasn’t. Discovered later that it was, and Jason was wrong.
^ We did not simply walk into Mordor - we drove past without realising.
It was quite an awesome drive through the highlands, and then descended slightly into trout country.
^ Lake Taupo
Seems trout fishing up here is a big deal with a Trout museum and lots of trout on signs etc. We drove around Lake Taupo which is really rather large and eventually arrived at the town of Taupo itself. We decided not to follow the GPS and headed into town for a brief look (drive-by tourism) and on the way out Jason suggested we follow the signs to Huka Falls, whatever that was.
The weather that was threatening finally broke and the rain came down as we arrived at a lookout and realised it wasn’t the falls (just a lookout over the town). We headed down the road a bit and found where the falls were and were debating if it was worth heading out for a look in the rain, but eventually decided to try. I broke out my cheap emergency rain coat (which I’d bought earlier in the trip) and we headed out – and it was well worth it!
^ Huka Falls
^ Crazy amount of water
The falls aren’t high, but the sheer amount of water going down is pure nuts. Apparently it would fill 5 Olympic pools every minute. We stayed around admiring the falls for a bit and then headed onwards to Rotorua.
Jason had been here before, so directed us off the road before we arrived at the town and down a muddy track to Kerosene Creek. This is in a Thermal area – so the creek is actually quite warm. So even though it was raining, we got changed and went for a dip. It’s quite popular with locals and tourists in the know – but certainly not commercialised, just a long-drop dunny and carpark and a rough walking track to the creek.
^ Kerosene Creek - very cool (but very warm)
Half a dozen cars were here even though the day was miserable. Quite awesome, but warmer than I’d prefer – but worth it for the experience. As the water was moving quite fast down the waterfalls it was also stirring up a lot of dirt, so it wasn’t exactly a cleansing experience. We headed into town to find the caravan park and some showers.
^ Steam from the thermal vents
On the way into town you could see steam rising from all the thermal vents around the area – more visible due to the rain – made for quite an interesting site.
We had booked a log cabin for the night – quite pretty, but just a wooden room with a bed and a couple of bunks – should be far better than recent nights in tents though. The rain has eased up now – but it’s still been a good call.
Headed into town to find some tea. Jason veto’d my idea to find a curry place and decided we should live on the edge and have some pizza instead. He’s a risk taker, our Jason.
Stopped at the bottle shop to try a few local brews. I got a Tui pale ale because I’d driven past the brewery earlier in the trip – and a Kiwi fruit cider. Both were quite nice.
Set some stuff out to dry and updated this log before calling it a night. Tomorrow it’s off to Hobbiton!
Day 8 – we’re off to meet the Hobbits…
Ah – the joy of sleeping in an actual bed!
Got up and underway in reasonable time today even with the more comfortable beds. Had breakfast at the caravan park and then headed into town. Jason wanted to check out the Cash Converters but it wasn’t open yet – so we headed out to the lake to find a cache. This was easily accomplished. We walked around the lake for a bit as it’s really impressive.
^ A small pool of boiling water
Rotorua is a very thermally active place, and the lake seems to be particularly prone. Lots of vents with steam coming out on the lake edge, and pools with boiling water and/or mud. Smells like someone dropped their guts, but very interesting.
^ A large pool of boining mud
Took a million and a half photos of the mud boiling trying to catch one with a good explosion, haven’t checked them all out yet to tell if it worked.
The lake itself is cold (it’s rather massive), but there were sections of it bubbling due to thermal vents under the surface. Not enough to heat the entire thing though. Apparently if you dig a hole right beside the lake it will fill with water and start boiling – but we didn’t have any implements and it was too rocky to dig by hand.
^ Another vent
Back to the car via a different route, and noticed the “danger” signs warning people not to go where we’d just been – whoops. Ah well, we didn’t fall in. Back into the CBD (we weren’t exactly far from it at the lake’s edge) and Jason had a quite look around Cash Converters, but there was nothing worth converting cash for.
^ The Skyline Gondola
Next up Jason was keen to show me SkyLine. It’s a tourist trap that’s only (publicly) accessible by a Gondola. So we bought our tickets and headed up the side of the hill. They have a few attractions up there – but the two Jason wanted to go back to (he’d been here before) were the Luge and Jelly Bean shop.
The Luge is basically a billy-cart track. You jump on the little sled things and coast down the track. As well as turning, the handle-bars control you braking and speed by pulling them towards you or pushing away.
When we got there, there were only a couple of other people about – so we headed down the “Scenic” track so I could learn how to drive the sled. Jason screamed past as he knew what he was doing.
At the bottom of the track you catch a chairlift back to the top. The chairlift also hooks the sled carts underneath in a rather clever mechanism that delivers them to the top without any intervention.
At the top there were quite a few more people – so we had to wait a bit before doing the scenic track again. I was much quicker this time, passing a heap of other tourists on the way (scaring a few of them) but Jason was still considerably faster.
Back to the top again only to find rather long queues and a 30 minute wait for our next attempt – this time on the Intermediate course which is much faster.
Another trip up a run down the Advanced Course. This is the fastest one and includes a slight jump. Lots of fun.
Our ticket had included a fifth run, but we were running low on time and the queues were certainly no shorter – so we gave the last one a miss.
While we were up there we checked out the Jelly Belly shop. It’s a Jelly-Bean shop that does a large number of flavours. Most impressively, it does a number of deliberately gross flavours like “Lawn clippings”, “rotten eggs”, and “boogers”. Think the all-flavour beans from Harry Potter. We stocked up on a few (both good and bad) to try later.
^ Harry Potter made of jelly beans
^ A few of the flavours
Down the Gondela to the car and Jason asked if we could go to a Burger Fuel for lunch (another burger joint). We did, but he decided it was too expensive, so instead spent a similar amount next door at the bakery. And then it was time to head out of town.
We’re going to see the Hobbits!
We’d booked out Hobbiton tour the night before, which was a very good thing – it was sold out for most of the day by the time we got there. We had plenty of time to visit the gift shop and things before our tour was ready. All the tour buses are named after dwarves – we were in Ori, but we saw Dwalin, Fili, and Thorin as well.
As a Lord of the Rings fan, the tour of Hobbiton was fantastic. It’s just an area of the local farm that was used in the filming of Lord of the Rings – but when they filmed the Hobbit there, a deal was struck so the Hobbit holes were built permantly rather than as temporary sets, so you can walk around Hobbiton and admire the different Hobbit holes.
^ Welcome, come inside!
They are different scales to accommodate the shots necessary, and look brilliant. Truly an awesome place to visit.
^ Pickles, the only resident of Hobbiton
There’s a cat that lives here called Pickles – he’s a very patient cat, which is good given the thousands of tourists that pay him homage each day.
Bag End was the focus of the tour of course – with everyone waiting for a chance to take photos in front – we were no different.
^ Bag End - the most famous of Hobbit Holes
^ My Precious...
^ The Green Dragon
The tour ends at the Green Dragon Inn – where you can try the South Farthing Ale which I thought was quite good – even if Jason couldn’t get past the first mouthful of his. The Green Dragon was an awesome Inn – and a great way to end the tour.
^ The bar of the Green Dragon with out tour guide, Kelsie.
Back to the Hobbit shop to pick up the souvenirs we’d chosen, including some South Farthing Cider – not sure that will make it home (sorry Em).
And then it was on to Hamilton where Jason wanted to show me some go-karts that he really enjoys, but turns out they aren’t open on Mondays. We got some Fish and Chips for tea (as Jason hasn’t had any over here) and ate them down by the lake in town. Then back to Jason’s place for the night – and a chance to update this and recharge some batteries.
Tomorrow will be a quieter day while I work out where to head next.
^ Cheers from Hobbiton!